Top Ear

Igneous and Inexpensive: Solti’s Verdi Requiem

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Verdi: Requiem

Jeremy Lee writes

Solti’s Verdi Requiem has been issued on RCA Classic Library previously, and its rather embarrassing length of 81 minutes and 34 seconds–a bit too much for one CD–meant that it had to spill over a second CD.  Now, though, it’s been reissued at a budget price on the new Sony Classical Masters series, and by some technical wizardry the producers have been able to squeeze all that 80+ minutes of Verdian goodness into one unusually generously-filled CD.  This makes it one of the longest CDs ever to have been made, and certainly the longest CD ever to be issued on a budget series.  Certainly it’s the longest CD I own in my collection, surpassing that of my Mehta/VPO Mahler 2, and one of the most inexpensive, at only $59.  That’s about 1 minute and 23 seconds per Hong Kong dollar, and say what you like:  for a new CD, it’s tremendous value for money.

Tremendous, too, is the performance.  And what a performance!  I’m not familiar with the work having heard it only once in its entirety this morning, nor have I another normal recording to compare it to (I say this because the only other recording I have is Celibidache), but it’s obvious that Solti and his forces give a fiery, bombastic performance of one of the most dramatic Requiems ever written.  The piece’s attributes–terrifying and extremely dramatic, requiring larger-than-life brass forces–gave me the impression that it almost was written for Solti and his forces:  Solti for a dramatic, all-stops-out performance (as in his insanely exciting Mahler), and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra which, in yours truly’s most humble opinion, is the most virtuosic orchestra in the world–definitely able to conquer Verdi’s unwieldy and complex writing, and which sports what is (less controversially) the strongest brass section of any orchestra today.

Indeed, Solti and his team perform it as if it were written for them.  The Requiem aeternam offers little hint of the drama that is to come, and the Kyrie’s lovely melody is projected wonderfully by the four stellar soloists featured here:  Leontyne Price, Janet Baker, Veriano Luchetti, and José van Dam.  Price’s singing in particular has a certain yearning quality that is very attractive, especially in the context of the piece.  The Dies Irae (and the outbursts throughout the piece that are to follow) are dramatic and imposing, with a very strong bass drum, and the chorus sings powerfully without resorting to mere shouting.  Tuba Mirum’s trumpets are as expected supremely powerful although very slightly uncoordinated at times, and van Dam delivers a spine-chilling solo in Mors Stupebit.  The chorus in Rex Tremendae is tremendously powerful, and Price and Baker’s duets in the Recordare are most beautiful.  Following that is the Ingemisco, with Luchetti handling the extremely high tessitura comfortably, and then the terrifying Confutatis in which van Dam’s deep, rich voice makes it all the more imposing.  To cap off the Dies Irae sequence, a beautiful Lacrimosa.

A (rather forgettable) Offertorio follows.  Sanctus bounces away well, every word clear and well articulated, and while I’m not a fan of the Gregorian Chant references in the Agnus Dei, I have to say that it’s very special.  Lux aeterna is another rather forgettable movement (certainly it hasn’t registered a discernable melody in my mind), but the heart of the piece lies in the oldest, and last, movement, the Libera Me (Verdi had originally used the musical material in a collaborative Requiem for the late Rossini).  Here, Price sings the “senza tempo” sections with a real sense of urgency and despair, and she tackles the highest and lowest of notes with exceptional flair, power and ease.  Spectacular chorus too.

It is a great performance, and of course that is thanks to Solti, the “dynamite” conductor, who only encourages the orchestra to play with more energy and more fire.  I am of course aware that he recorded the piece before on Decca but I haven’t heard it–a comparison between these performances will surely ensue if I get hold of the Decca one.  Sonics are fine though quite congested in the Dies Irae and comparably loud sections.  I recommend this recording very highly:  buy it for the music, for a massively exciting performance of it, or just to bedevil your neighbours!–and at such an attractive price, who would risk trying it out?


  • Album name:  Verdi:  Requiem
  • Performers:  Georg Solti (conductor);  Leontyne Price (Soprano);  Janet Baker (Mezzo-soprano);  Veriano Luchetti (tenor);  José van Dam (bass);  Chicago Symphony Orchestra;  Chicago Symphony Chorus
  • Label:  RCA Classical Masters 88697705692
  • Sonics:  Stereo ADD
  • Total playing time:  81:34

Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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